At a time when intellectuals across the country are protesting against communal intolerance, attack on free thinkers and Dadri incident by returning awards, Bengal intelligentsia is conspicuous by their silence.
There has been not a single show of solidarity with the intellectuals of the country who are up in arms against the Narendra Modi government on a wide range of issues — the killing of progressive intellectuals like MM Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar, the lynching at Dadri and the cancellation of Ghulam Ali’s show in Maharashtra. Hardly any one of the Bengal’s top intellectuals spoke up.
On Tuesday, when Bengal ultimately joined the list of states from where litterateurs have returned Sahitya Academy and other awards conferred by the central government, it was the youngest member of Bengal’s list of Sahitya Academy recipients — Mandakranta Sen — to take the first step. However, the veteran recipients are in no mood to follow suit.
Poet Nirendranath Chakraborty said, “I do not consider returning an award as the right way of marking a protest.”
Poet Shankha Ghosh, while stressing on the necessity to protest against the Centre, is not in favour of returning the Sahitya Academy award that he received in 1977. “I am planning some form of protest but will disclose it later,” Ghosh said.
Novelist Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay said, “There is no point in returning an award that I did not receive from this government.”
Poet Subodh Sarkar prefers hitting the streets to “returning an award by email.” Writer Nabanita Deb Sen said she wouldn’t return her award as she does not consider Sahitya Academy to be part of the government.
Though distant spectators to the festering disquiet in the intelligentsia over rising intolerance, Bengal intellectuals have been known to champion similar protests.
Rabindranath Tagore returned the Knighthood in protest against the massacre at Jallianwalah Bagh. Salil Choudhury and a number of Bengal writers, singers and musicians hit the streets in the ‘50s in solidarity with the protesting farmers of Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. During Emergency, Utpal Dutta took the lead against Indira Gandhi government.
Even in 2006, intellectuals led movement against land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram.
Following the police brutalities in Nandigram, theatre personalities Bibhash Chakraborty and Kaushik Sen resigned from the Bangla Natya Akademy, Sankho Ghosh resigned from the post of vice chairman of Bangla Akademy, Ashru Kumar Sikdar resigned from Bangla Akademy and Shashi Anand resigned from the advisory body of Nandan. Magsaysay and Jnanpith award winner Mahashweta Devi became the leading face against the LF government. However, even when students hit the streets in Kolkata on the FTII issue, the intelligentsia was only seen making statements to the media.
“I had been hesitating over the form of protest because of the silence among the Bengal intelligentsia. But the incident of blackening Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face was the tipping point for me,” Mandakranta Sen told HT.